Edinburgh bans adverts for high-carbon products in public spaces

What’s happening? The City of Edinburgh Council has approved a ban on out-of-home advertising for high-carbon products to uphold its climate emergency declaration’s credibility. The Policy and Sustainability Committee finalised changes to its Advertising and Sponsorship Policy to align with the council’s net-zero by 2030 goal. The ban includes adverts for airlines, airports, cruise holidays, and cars and vans that produce tailpipe emissions. It also targets zero-emission SUVs, petrol, diesel and fossil fuel companies, including their sub-brands and lobbyists. The ban, to be enacted as soon as possible, covers council-owned assets and event sponsorships and will apply to all current agreements when they come up for renewal. (edie) 

Why does this matter? Edinburgh’s decision follows a similar move by Sheffield City Council, which introduced a policy to ban polluting and unhealthy advertising in March. Other councils, such as Somerset, Cambridgeshire and Coventry, have also introduced such measures. In the EU, France has banned advertising for fossil fuel products, including petrol stations. Adverts for motor vehicles must include messaging to encourage people to walk or cycle for short journeys, take public transport or rideshare. Amsterdam has also cut adverts for fossil fuel companies, fossil-fuelled vehicles and airlines in the subway stations and the city centre. In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin recently tabled a Bill in parliament to end fossil fuel advertising.  

Policy rationale – In its policy document, Edinburgh Council pointed out that “the advertising industry has a key role to play in promoting low-carbon behaviours. Conversely, the promotion of high-carbon products is incompatible with net zero objectives.” Robbie Gillet from Adfree Cities, which campaigns for the reduction of harmful advertising in public spaces and supported Edinburgh in the development of its policy, added: “Our daily exposure to adverts encouraging us to buy more and more polluting products runs in contradiction to the urgent need to decarbonise our economy. Edinburgh Council have taken an important step to resolve that contradiction. This is literally world-leading climate policy, putting Edinburgh ahead of any other global capital city.” 

Shifting advertising landscapes – JCDecaux, Edinburgh’s current contractor for bus stop and large-format advertising, has estimated that the restrictions could reduce council revenues by around 10% – £200,000 ($254,274) – from 2030 onwards. However, Adfree Cities said that such claims are “unevidenced”, highlighting that Transport for London’s junk food advertising ban, implemented in 2019, has not resulted in lost revenues and has successfully reduced purchasing of unhealthy products. The group also suggest that adverts for high-carbon products can be switched in favour of less damaging goods and services, which would minimise revenue loss while providing the benefits of cleaner air, lower greenhouse gas emissions and avoided public health costs.  

SUV advertising – The decision to include all types of SUVs in the ban comes just as the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that such vehicles accounted for 48% of global car sales in 2023, surpassing a 50% market share in advanced economies for the first time. These heavier, less fuel-efficient cars emit approximately 20% more CO2 than smaller vehicles, require more oil and electricity use and need more basic metals and critical materials for battery production. The IEA claims the increase has been driven by multiple factors such as their appeal as a status symbol, perception of enhanced comfort and, perhaps most importantly, the marketing strategies of leading automakers.  

Indeed, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which updated its guidance on environmental claims in advertising last year, banned two adverts for Toyota’s Hilux SUV, including a video and bus stop poster. Its November 2023 ruling claimed that the adverts disregarded the impact of the vehicles on nature and the environment and “had not been prepared with a sense of responsibility to society.” 


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